Richard Pestell's first taste of planning came through commuting with backpackers on the trains of mainland Europe. Now a senior associate at Roger Tym & Partners (RTP), he spent three months in the Netherlands under the ERASMUS exchange scheme as part of his geography degree course.
The University of Groningen took a hands-on approach to planning, often sending out its students on fields trips across the continent.
"It was before the days of budget airlines, so we would get on the night train and go across Europe. I think that the furthest we reached was Prague. The university's attitude was very much that you would learn more if went out and had a look at places," Pestell recalls.
He also liked how the Dutch tackled spatial planning. "They were very much against large retail stores," he remembers. "Your shopping was something you did in a small local store. Obviously it wouldn't work here now, but I found it a refreshing attitude."
Although his first degree at the University of Reading evidently stimulated his interest, Pestell was initially unsure whether to join the planning sector.
"I always aspired to do something like town planning, but I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do when I came out of school. It's not like most people walk out of the school gates and straight onto an RTPI-accredited course," he reflects.
He began by putting in two days a week at RTP while studying at Reading and has been at the firm ever since. He has specific expertise in land-use development and monitoring, including local property and land studies on employment and retail.
He manages work for public and private clients and oversees the firm's regional and national data collection and analysis projects.
During his time at the company he has managed the National Land Use Database, which collates data from all English local authorities, run land-use monitoring exercises across the UK and advised central government on planning for economic development.
"I'm most proud of the employment and land studies I've achieved here, particularly our work in the Yorkshire and Humber region," he says.
He gives an honest assessment of dealing with clients. "There's a stream of consultancy that is aspiration-led. Many employment studies I have seen feature lots of science and business parks, with little bearing on reality.
"Some people want a predetermined outcome and are then surprised when it falls down. I try to be more balanced. Before, the public sector or the regional development agency (RDA) could step in if there was a funding issue, but that option has gone now."
Pestell fears that much of the RDAs' efforts will now go to waste. "It's disheartening to see that five years of work could eventually be lost," he says. He is also concerned about the current hiatus in plan-making now regional strategies have been dropped.
"We are getting a lot of developers coming to us saying that they have a field that should have 800 homes on it, but councils are telling them to wait because they are revising their housing plans."
He is yet to be convinced by the government's plans to introduce local economic partnerships to plug the gap left by RDAs. "I don't honestly know what form they will take. It would be easy for councils to join up with their friends and neighbours, but it seems to me we could be faced with a horrible period of flux," he warns.
"For example, this may not seem hugely important to some, but one can look at strategic warehousing, which is just big box sheds. Locally, these are normally political hot potatoes because people don't want them and they're not liked by politicians.
"But they are a really important resource and it may now be harder to accommodate them in some areas. The regions were taking decisions over key priorities and without them, I have no idea how things will pan out. We will just have to wait and see," he adds.
Pestell looks forward to the planning landscape becoming a little clearer in 2011. "I hope that in 12 months' time, local authorities will have taken a stronger view on how revising local housing numbers will affect jobs in the long term," he says. In the meantime, he will continue to lend a hand in keeping fellow professionals up to date via his role in advising the RTPI on training in his specialist subjects.
"For the past four years I have been advising the institute on what it can put in its conference programmes," he explains.
"It all started when I suggested that there was a hole in one line-up on land development. I put forward some people that I was keen to see speak. It's an interesting break from just doing normal consultancy work."
Outside work, Pestell still cites travel as his key interest. On one adventure, he spent six-and-a-half weeks travelling overland from Moscow to Saigon.
"But I've given up on youth hostels nowadays. I don't go to the back end of India like I used to," he says. Even so, it is fair to say that he has taken a global assessment of planning, just as the system seems set to revert back to a more localised viewpoint.
Age - 33
Family - Single
Education - Degree in geography, University of Reading; masters in environmental planning and development, University of Reading
Interests - Travel
1999 - Part-time GIS consultant rising to consultant, senior consultant, associate and senior associate, Roger Tym & Partners.